City Lights: A 'Star Wars' galaxy not so far away

Yes, this might have been my wish.

That was the thought that recurred in my mind as I inched my way through the crowd at Sunday afternoon's "Star Wars" festival by the Huntington Beach Pier. The Course of the Force, a charity relay for theMake-A-Wish Foundation, had made its latest stop at Pier Plaza, and the intersection of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway swarmed with plastic lightsabers, Obi-Wan robes and even a model R2-D2.

Right near the crosswalk, next to the inflatable entrance gate that led to the vendor booths, was the headlining attraction: a replica of the Khetanna, Jabba the Hutt's sail barge from "Return of the Jedi," which the organizers had built from scratch to serve as the relay's lead vehicle. As I stood and gazed at its brown exterior gleaming in the sun, I couldn't remember the last time I had so wanted to be 6 years old again.

I don't count myself a "Star Wars" fanatic. If I entered a trivia contest about it at Comic-Con, I'd probably get trounced. But roots are roots: When I was born in the late 1970s, George Lucas' galaxy far, far away dominated the TV, toy chest and record collection of just about every boy I knew. I wanted to wield my own lightsaber. I wanted to use the Force. And oh, man, did I want to ride in that sail barge.

For some reason, that scene in "Jedi," where Jabba and his minions take the heroes out in the barge and try to feed them to the massive desert intestine, was my favorite scene in the trilogy. At one point, I even vowed to build my own replica of the barge out of scrap wood and nails, piecing together three tiny planks before the task overwhelmed me.

If I had been a kid under the umbrella of Make-A-Wish, which fulfills wishes for children with life-threatening conditions, I might have asked them to build me a life-size replica of the Khetanna. (The organization, which typically fulfills wishes along the lines of Disneyland trips and shopping sprees, might have declined.) When I climbed the ladder onto the vehicle's roof Sunday, I was decades past that stage. But that's the thing about childhood passions — we outgrow, but we never forget.

It turns out that Lucas spawned more than a few wishes, and for more than one generation, when he sketched out the universe for his massive space opera. At Pier Plaza, I got to talking with Sarah Pizzaruso, a development manager for Make-A-Wish, and she said "Star Wars"-related requests were some of the most common her organization handles.

That was what inspired the team behind Course of the Force, which consists of Lucasfilm, Nerdist Industries and Octagon Global Events, to put together a "Star Wars"-themed event to raise money for Make-A-Wish. During the relay, which started July 7 and was expected to end Wednesday at Comic-Con in San Diego, participants walked a quarter-mile each with a lightsaber, which played the same role as the Olympic torch. The entry fee was $500, all of which went to Make-A-Wish.

When the relay, along with the sail barge, arrived at the Huntington Beach Pier, the organizers put on a festival with vendors, music and more. Make-A-Wish kids from around the Southland were invited to attend, with one, 7-year-old Valarius Hernandez of Hemet, even getting to accompany the saber-bearer as he arrived at the pier.

Valarius, who walked to the pier with his brother and mother, has a "Star Wars" wish of his own pending: He'll take part in the Jedi Training Academy, a live show at Disneyland in which kids are picked from the audience to "train" with a Jedi Master.

At the pier, Valarius sported a Darth Vader costume (his mother went as Princess Leia, with a white robe and her hair tied in those famous side buns). I asked Valarius if the arch-villain was his favorite character, and he replied yes — "because he's on the Dark Side."

Even as one who rooted for the heroes growing up, I have to admit the Dark Side has its allures. After all, the bad guys get the sail barge.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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